How Liberals and Conservatives Shop Differently

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After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018, Dick’s Sporting Goods announcedthat it would no longer sell semiautomatic rifles in its hunting and fishing stores; it had already stopped selling them at its main stores after the December 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting. The company has gone on to destroy the guns it pulled from its shelves, rather than selling them back to the manufacturers.  CEO Ed Stack toldThe New York Times,  “We’re going to take a stand and step up and tell people our view and, hopefully, bring people along into the conversation.”  While some consumers threatened to boycottthe retailer, the company’s stock is up, and public perception of the brand is more positive overall.

Dick’s is not alone. The charged political atmosphere is increasingly influencing the marketplace, and retailers are having to figure out where they stand.  Consumers are putting more pressure on companies to choose sides.  In fact, a recent surveyshowed that 66 percent of consumers want companies to take a stand on social and political issues, and customers are increasingly interpreting company actions through a political lens.

In part, this reflects rising polarization overall.  According to recent reports, the polarizationof political attitudes in America has been on the rise over the last two decades, reached new heights during President Obama’s administration, and has become even larger during President Trump’s time in office.  Rising political divisions shape where individuals prefer to live, the types of people they surroundthemselves with, and how they interact with their parents, children, neighborsand partners.  In this era, it seems, everything is political—including shopping.

But research by Nailya Ordabayeva, (NI-il-ee-a OR-da-bi-ee-va) an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Boston College, suggests that the brand preferences of American consumers are shaped not only by where companies stand on politically polarizing issues, but by consumers’ own political affiliations and subtle brand associations.  The results of her research were summarized in a July/August 2018 Harvard Business Reviewarticle titled, How Liberals and Conservatives Shop...

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